There is a flurry of suggestion that George Osborne is preparing to support Boris Johnson in a leadership election in the event of the Conservatives losing in May. It isn’t new. There have been similar flurries in recent months, and I offered a take on this site recently.
A view from Camp Osborne is that the Chancellor recognises that he is most unlikely to be placed to contest such an poll: as the main architect in Cabinet of David Cameron’s general election strategy, he recognises that his brand would be damaged by an election loss. Osborne recognises that his best chance of succeeding Cameron as party leader is simultaneously to succeed him as Prime Minister – post-2017, after the planned referendum on Britain’s EU membership.
The question of who the Chancellor and his friends would support in a post-May leadership election is very live. And the answer at this stage is obvious – namely, that this stage is a very early one.
Certainly, there has been a warming of relations between Osborne and Boris recently (at least from the Chancellor’s end). But May and its election is still a distance away, and Cameron could still be in place afterwards. And if he isn’t, some new star may be shining out in the Tory firmament, who will “make the face of heaven so fine/ that all the world will be in love with night/And pay no worship to the garish sun…”
That glittering person could be Sajid Javid, the Chancellor’s former PPS – and another person closely linked to him. It could be someone else entirely. Who knows? And of course the whole caboodle may not happen anyway. One thing is very, very unlikely – namely, that Osborne would support the Home Secretary.
Meanwhile, Camp Whips Office confirms that dinners have been (and are being) arranged for MPs, with each whip selecting members of their flocks for attendance – and that Michael Gove has presided at them. There have apparently been about “half a dozen” so far.
But the line is that a fundamental duty for a Chief Whip is to keep in touch with what backbenchers are thinking; that these dinners are a means of doing so; that about half a dozen have taken place so far; that they have no agenda, and that, like the Holy Spirit, the conversation bloweth where it listeth (though to infinitely less good effect).
I’m sure that Gove is keeping a weather eye out for the interests of Osborne, his friend. But this account sounds plausible.